May 082014


Today is World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day, an annual celebration of the principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. World Red Cross Red Crescent Day is celebrated on 8 May each year because it is the anniversary of the birth of Jean-Henri Dunant (1828), the founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the recipient of the first Nobel Peace Prize. The first Red Cross Day was celebrated on 8 May 1948. The official title of the day has changed over time, and it became “World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day” in 1984. The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is an enduring symbol of hope for peace, especially in times of war when the various societies act to provide aid to those in war zones and prison camps.

Most people are aware of the work of the Red Cross Movement, even if only from movies of prisoner of war camps during World Wars I & II where they delivered letters from home, provided care packages, and visited prisoners to ensure they were being treated according to the standards of the Geneva Convention. Such work continues to this day. To celebrate the day I’d like to sketch out a little of the history of the founding of the International Red Cross, the first of many such relief organizations.



Until the middle of the 19th century, there were no organized or well-established army nursing systems for casualties, and no safe and protected institutions to accommodate and treat those who were wounded on the battlefield. In June 1859, the Swiss businessman Jean-Henri Dunant traveled to Italy to meet French emperor Napoléon III with the intention of discussing difficulties in conducting business in Algeria, at that time occupied by France. When he arrived in the small town of Solferino on the evening of June 24, he witnessed the Battle of Solferino, an engagement in the Austro-Sardinian War. In a single day, about 40,000 soldiers on both sides died or were left wounded on the field. Dunant was shocked by the terrible aftermath of the battle, the suffering of the wounded soldiers, and the near-total lack of medical attendance and basic care. He completely abandoned the original intent of his trip and for several days he devoted himself to helping with the treatment and care for the wounded. He succeeded in organizing an overwhelming level of relief assistance by motivating the local villagers to aid without discrimination.

Back in his home in Geneva, he decided to write a book entitled A Memory of Solferino which he published with his own money in 1862. He sent copies of the book to leading political and military figures throughout Europe. In addition to writing a vivid description of his experiences in Solferino in 1859, he explicitly advocated the formation of national voluntary relief organizations to help nurse wounded soldiers in the case of war. In addition, he called for the development of international treaties to guarantee the protection of neutral medics and field hospitals for soldiers wounded on the battlefield.

In 1863, Gustave Moynier, a Geneva lawyer and president of the Geneva Society for Public Welfare, received a copy of Dunant’s book and introduced it for discussion at a meeting of that society. As a result of this initial discussion the society established an investigatory commission to examine the feasibility of Dunant’s suggestions and eventually to organize an international conference about their possible implementation. The members of this committee, which has subsequently been referred to as the “Committee of the Five,” aside from Dunant and Moynier were physician Louis Appia, who had significant experience working as a field surgeon, Appia’s friend and colleague Théodore Maunoir, from the Geneva Hygiene and Health Commission, and Guillaume-Henri Dufour, a Swiss Army general of great renown. Eight days later, the five men decided to rename the committee the “International Committee for Relief to the Wounded.” In October (26–29) 1863, an international conference organized by the committee was held in Geneva to develop possible measures to improve medical services on the battlefield. The conference was attended by 36 people: eighteen official delegates from national governments, six delegates from other non-governmental organizations, seven non-official foreign delegates, and the five members of the International Committee. The states and kingdoms represented by official delegates were Austria, Baden, Bavaria, France, Hesse Electorate of Hesse, Italy, The Netherlands, Prussia, Russian Empire, Saxony, Spain, Sweden-Norway, United Kingdom.

Among the proposals written in the final resolutions of the conference, adopted on October 29, 1863, were:

The foundation of national relief societies for wounded soldiers.

Neutrality and protection for wounded soldiers.

The utilization of volunteer forces for relief assistance on the battlefield.

The organization of additional conferences to enact these concepts in legally binding international treaties.

The introduction of a common distinctive protection symbol for medical personnel in the field, namely, a white armlet bearing a red cross.


Only one year later, the Swiss government invited the governments of all European countries, as well as the United States, Brazil, and Mexico, to attend an official diplomatic conference. Sixteen countries sent a total of twenty-six delegates to Geneva. On August 22, 1864, the conference adopted the first Geneva Convention “for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field.” Representatives of 12 states and kingdoms signed the convention: Baden, Belgium, Denmark, France, Hesse, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Prussia, Switzerland, Spain, and Württemberg. The convention contained ten articles, establishing for the first time legally binding rules guaranteeing neutrality and protection for wounded soldiers, field medical personnel, and specific humanitarian institutions in an armed conflict. Furthermore, the convention defined two specific requirements for recognition of a national relief society by the International Committee:

The national society must be recognized by its own national government as a relief society according to the convention.

The national government of the respective country must be a state party to the Geneva Convention.

Directly following the establishment of the Geneva Convention, the first national societies were founded in Belgium, Denmark, France, Oldenburg, Prussia, Spain, and Württemberg. Also in 1864, Louis Appia and Charles van de Velde, a captain of the Dutch Army, became the first independent and neutral delegates to work under the symbol of the Red Cross in an armed conflict. Three years later in 1867, the first International Conference of National Aid Societies for the Nursing of the War Wounded was convened.

Also in 1867, Jean-Henri Dunant was forced to declare bankruptcy due to business failures in Algeria, partly because he had neglected his business interests during his tireless activities for the International Committee. Controversy surrounding Dunant’s business dealings and the resulting negative public opinion, combined with an ongoing conflict with Gustave Moynier, led to Dunant’s expulsion from his position as a member and secretary. He was charged with fraudulent bankruptcy and a warrant for his arrest was issued. Thus, he was forced to leave Geneva and never returned to his home city.

In the following years, national societies were founded in nearly every country in Europe. In 1876, the committee adopted the name “International Committee of the Red Cross” (ICRC), which is still its official designation today. Five years later, the American Red Cross was founded through the efforts of Clara Barton. More and more countries signed the Geneva Convention and began to respect it in practice during armed conflicts. In a rather short period of time, the Red Cross gained huge momentum as an internationally respected movement, and the national societies became increasingly popular as a venue for volunteer work.

When the first Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in 1901, the Norwegian Nobel Committee opted to give it jointly to Jean-Henri Dunant and Frédéric Passy, a leading international pacifist. More significant than the honor of the prize itself, the official congratulation from the International Committee of the Red Cross marked the overdue rehabilitation of Jean-Henri Dunant and represented a tribute to his key role in the formation of the Red Cross. Dunant died nine years later in the small Swiss health resort of Heiden. Only two months earlier his long-standing adversary Gustave Moynier had also died, leaving a mark in the history of the Committee as its longest-serving president ever.


In 1919, representatives from the national Red Cross societies of Britain, France, Italy, Japan, and the US came together in Paris to found the “League of Red Cross Societies”. The original idea was Henry Davison’s, then president of the American Red Cross. This move, led by the American Red Cross, expanded the international activities of the Red Cross movement beyond the strict mission of the ICRC to include relief assistance in response to emergency situations which were not caused by war (such as natural disasters). The ARC already had great disaster relief mission experience extending back to its foundation.

The first relief assistance mission organized by the League was an aid mission for the victims of a famine and subsequent typhus epidemic in Poland. Only five years after its foundation, the League had already issued 47 donation appeals for missions in 34 countries, an impressive indication of the need for this type of Red Cross work. The total sum raised by these appeals reached 685 million Swiss Francs, used to bring emergency supplies to the victims of famines in Russia, Germany, and Albania; earthquakes in Chile, Persia, Japan, Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Turkey; and refugee flows in Greece and Turkey. The first large-scale disaster mission of the League came after the 1923 earthquake in Japan which killed about 200,000 people and left countless more wounded and without shelter. Due to the League’s coordination, the Red Cross society of Japan received goods from its sister societies reaching a total worth of about $100 million. Another important new field initiated by the League was the creation of youth Red Cross organizations within the national societies.

The Red Cross flag is not to be confused with the St George’s Cross which is on the flag of England, Barcelona, Freiburg, and several other places. In order to avoid this confusion the protected symbol is sometimes referred to as the “Greek Red Cross.” The red cross of the St George cross extends to the edge of the flag, whereas the red cross on the Red Cross flag does not. The Red Cross flag/emblem is no more than a color-reversed version of the flag of Switzerland. The Red Crescent emblem was first used by ICRC volunteers during the armed conflict between the Ottoman Empire and Russia (1877–1878), to allay criticism from the Turks that the red cross was derived from Christianity. The symbol was officially adopted in 1929, and so far 33 Islamic states have recognized it.


For most of its history the various local and national branches of Red Cross and Red Crescent have relied on volunteer workers and private donations. One of the ways that local branches raised funds was to publish cookbooks using recipes contributed by local cooks, usually women. This one comes from the Red Cross Society in Newmarket, Ontario to raise funds to purchase an ambulance that would be sent to the frontlines in France during World War I. They were so successful in their fundraising venture that they had enough money not only for an ambulance but also to send over a nurse.

The cookbook contains recipes for soups, meat, puddings, sauces, desserts, custards, creams, breads, biscuits and rolls. There are also recipes in the book to cure earaches and for hair curling liquid. Also included is a timetable for how long to cook certain items and a weight and measuring chart. All the recipes were submitted by local women. Here is a recipe for fudge which I present verbatim (with slight editing for format).  I have not tried it because I do not have much of a sweet tooth.  But I have made fudge in the past and the recipe seems to be consonant with ones I have used.

Red Cross Fudge

Delicious easy fudge that works every time. Never crystallizes.


4 ½ cups sugar
½ lb. butter
12 oz. evaporated milk
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 cups miniature marshmallows
12 oz. real chocolate chips
2 cups chopped walnuts


Combine sugar, butter, evaporated milk, vanilla in a saucepan and bring to a rolling boil.

Cook on medium heat for 11 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add marshmallows, chocolate chips, walnuts to fudge and mix well.

Pour into a buttered pan and let cool.

Cut into squares when it cuts without melting back together but before it becomes crumbly.

Makes 5 pounds.

Store in an air-tight container.